I am a latecomer to yoga. I didn’t attend my first yoga class until I was 46 years old. I was intimidated by the impossibly skinny and muscular women and men who could twist up like pretzels and stand on their heads without breaking a sweat. But I was starting a Gestalt training program and knew that I needed to find a way to enhance the connection between my mind and my body. Even if yoga wasn’t the complete answer, I had a hunch it would move me in the right direction. I had a good friend (also a psychiatrist) who recommended her yoga studio. Not knowing where else to start, I bought a package of ten classes and jumped in with both feet.
For most of my life I have been a brain on a stick. I relied on my mind and my thinking to the near exclusion of the rest of my body. I had no idea that I could get important messages from my body or that breathing was the gateway to harmony and balance. In fact, being a doctor trained me to ignore and suppress my body signals about hunger, tiredness, and using the bathroom. After all, there was always another paper to read or another patient who needed help.
Knowing that the pager could go off at any moment taught me to gulp down most meals in under seven minutes. I could go almost ten hours without a bathroom break and I was proud of my “stamina.” Sleep? That could wait until I was dead.
Not surprisingly I approached yoga with surgical precision and a critical mindset. I had to get every pose just right or else the class would be a failure. I struggled to match the in-breath with upward dog and the out-breath with downward dog—or was it the other way around? I especially hated half-moon pose—my legs shook and I lost my balance and I couldn’t hold the pose for more than a second. I compared myself to every other person in the room and fell short most of the time. I sweat so much that I rained all over my clothes and my mat. I steered clear of the hot yoga classes where the heat was turned up to 95 degrees. When the teacher asked if we wanted the fan on, I was the first one to yell out, “Yes please!”
I am not sure what made me stick with it. Maybe the challenge of wanting to master the poses? Maybe my natural stubbornness and curiosity to keep on learning something every time I sat down on my mat? Ever so slowly, I started to figure things out. Yoga was not a competition. It was a practice. I could give myself a tiny bit of grace to make a mistake and not be perfect. My teachers would suggest poses without demanding anything. I remember the relief and gratitude I felt when a teacher said, “You can come out of the pose whenever you want and go to child’s pose for a break.” This was revolutionary to me.
I didn’t have to beat myself up anymore when I couldn’t get things right. In fact, there wasn’t actually any right or wrong, there was just me…breathing…and being.
I began to pay more attention to my breathing. I was able to flow more easily from pose to pose. I didn’t judge myself against anyone else in the room. In fact, I didn’t judge myself as much, even off my mat. I could actually feel things in my body that were previously unknown to me. I was able to find my growing edge and stand there for a moment, and then come back to my comfort zone. I learned that my mind and body were meant to be in constant communication. I began to truly understand the meaning of balance—not “work-life balance” but the balance between body, mind, and spirit.
Looking back, I am so grateful for taking a chance with that first yoga class in 2018. I am still a “baby yogi” but I have come a long way. I have been practicing yoga three to four times a week consistently for the last five years—the longest I have spent with any sort of “exercise program.” The beauty of yoga is found in the combined emphasis on physical strength and flexibility, as well as the simultaneous focus on meditation, breathing, and spiritual clarity. I don’t know of many other activities where I can strengthen my body, mind, and spirit in the same hour, the way I can on my mat. The benefits of yoga go well beyond the few hours I spend in class each week. I feel younger, stronger, and healthier than I have in years. I have more energy and motivation in all areas of my life. I hope to continue practicing yoga for as many years as possible. If you have ever wondered about yoga and if it might be a fit for you, I would strongly encourage you to experiment and try it out. You can click here to read an article from WebMD to see what type of yoga is right for you! If the first class or studio is not a perfect fit, there are many other forms and types of yoga which will move you forward on your wellness journey.
NOTE: I practice yoga through Cleveland Yoga, an affiliate partner of Baptiste Yoga. Baptiste Yoga was founded in the 1940s by Walt Baptiste and popularized in the United States by his son Baron. In his book Journey into Power, Baron Baptiste outlines the 53 poses, or asanas, that are linked together by connective momentum. The five classical pillars of Baptiste Yoga are Drishti (gaze), Ujjayi (breath), Bandhas (foundation), Tapas (heat) and Vinyasa (flow).
Cleveland Yoga website https://www.clevelandyoga.com/
For more information on the Baptiste Method, visit https://www.baptisteyoga.com/